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Anna Comnena

Anna Comnena

World's first woman annalist
"My grandmother ascended the imperial throne at the moment when her mental powers were at their most vigorous."

Date of Birth: 02/12/1083 1083

Place of Birth: Constantinople

Date of Death: 1153

Place of Death: Constantinople

Burial Site: No information available

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Annalist

Anna Comnena is considered the world's first female annalist and a major source of information about the reign of her father, Alexius I. Her works are full of details about daily life at court, the deeds of her family, and the exchanges between the Byzantines and western crusaders during the first crusades.

Anna Comnena was educated as if she was going to reign over the land from Italy to Armenia as the Byzantine Empress. That did not happen after her brother was born.

In those days Byzantine women had few social rights. They had to live in compounds called Gyneceum and hide from the rest of society by covering their faces. They were not allowed to join public festivities. Despite these limitations, there were successful women. Anna Comnena wrote about these successful women, including her grandmother Anna Dalassena. She mentioned and praised the opportunities she was given.

My grandmother Anna Dalassena
"It may cause some surprise that my father the Emperor had raised his mother to such a position of honor, and that he had handed complete power over to her. Yielding up the reins of government, one might say, he ran alongside her as she drove the imperial chariot.
My father reserved for himself the waging of wars against the barbarians, while he entrusted his mother with the administration of state affairs, the choosing of civil servants, and the fiscal management of the empire's revenues and expenses. In reading this, one might fault my father's decision to entrust the imperial government to the gyneceum . But once you understood the ability of this woman, her excellence, her good sense, and her remarkable capacity for hard work, your criticism would turn to admiration.
My grandmother really had the gift of conducting the affairs of state. She could organize and administer so well that she was capable of governing not only the Roman Empire but every kingdom under the sun. . . She was very shrewd in seizing whatever was called for and clever in carrying it out with certitude. Not only did she possess an outstanding intellect but her powers of speech matched it. She was a truly persuasive orator, in no way wordy or long-winded. Though she was ripe in years when she ascended the imperial throne, it was the moment when her mental abilities were most vigorous.
As for her compassion toward the poor and her lavish generosity toward the destitute, how can words describe these things? Her house was a shelter for needy relatives, and it was no less a haven for strangers. . . Her expression, which revealed her true character, demanded the worship of angels but struck terror among demons. . ."
(Anna Comnena)
"Anna Comnena, Commenting on her grandmother" womeninworldhistory.com, access 19.3.2012.

Anna Comnena writes about the daily palace life and times of her father between 1069 and 1118 in her fifteen volume memoir. She talks about the arrival of the Crusaders in Constantinople and how her grandfather, Alexius the First, strategically defended the city. The works of Anna Comnena's is a great guide for today's historians. Especially, her observations on Byzantine life and the Crusades.

The book of Anna Comnena

Anna Komnene, The Alexiad, translated by E.R.A. Sewter, ed. Peter Frankopan, New York, Penguin, 2009.

Awards

No information available

Memberships

No information available

Education

Anna Comnena studied philosophy, geometry, astronomy, music and medicine. She wrote about the disease of gout.

Contributions to Society

No information available

Family and Friends

  • Mother: Irene Dukaia
  • Father:Alexios I Komnenos (reign 1081-1118)
  • Daughters: Irene Doukaina, Maria Bryennaina Komnene
  • Sons: Alexios Komnenos, John Doukas
  • Grandfather: Caesar Andronikos
  • Marriage:Konstantin Dukas Porphyrogennetos, Nikephoros Bryennios (historian)

Commemorative Projects

No information available

Further Reading

Dion C. Smythe, "Middle Byzantine Family Values and Anna Komnene's Alexiad", in: Byzantine Women: Varieties of Experience, ed. Lynda Garland, New Hampshire, Ashgate, 2006, pp. 125-127.

Jan Olof Rosenqvist, Die byzantinische Literatur. Berlin-New York 2006, p. 127ff.

Peter Frankopan: "Perception and Projection of Prejudice. Anna Comnena, the Alexiad and the First Crusade", in: Susan B. Edgington, Sarah Lambert (Ed.): Gendering the Crusades, University of Wales Press, Cardiff 2001, pp. 45-59, Columbia University Press, New York 2002.

Barbara Hill, "Actions Speak Louder than Words: Anna Komnene's Attempted Usurpation", in: Anna Komnene and Her Times, New York: Garland, 2000, pp. 46-47.

Angeliki Laiou, "Introduction: Why Anna Komnene?", in: Anna Komnene and Her Times, ed. Thalia Gouma-Peterson, New York, Garland, 2000.

Tracy Barrett, Anna of Byzantium, Delacorte/Random House, 1999.

Ayşe Hür, Anna Komnena, Dünden Bugüne İstanbul Ansiklopedisi, V. 4, p. 47, Istanbul, 1994.

Georgios Tornikes, "An Unpublished Funeral Oration on Anna Comnena", English translation by Robert Browning, in: Aristotle Transformed: The Ancient Commentators and Their Influence, ed. R. Sorabji, New York, Cornell University Press, 1990.

Herbert Hunger, Anonyme Metaphrase zu Anna Komnene, Alexias XI-XIII, Vienna, 1981.

Herbert Hunger, Die hochsprachliche profane Literatur der Byzantiner. Bd. 1 (von 2). Munich 1978, p. 400ff.

C. Diehl, Byzantium, Greatness and Decline, New Jersey, 1943, p. 233-236, 242.

G. Bucler, Anna Comnena, Oxford, 1929.

Anna Comnena: The Alexiad, Fordham University website, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/AnnaComnena-Alexiad.asp (27.2.2012).

Anna Comnena, "Byzantine Historian of the First Crusade, (1083-1153)", in: Women in World History website, http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/heroine5.html (27.2.2012).

Sources

Quoted Sources:

Source of Visual Images:

Translation into English: Emre Aslay, Chicago Illinois, USA
Editing: Susan Strane, Chilmark, Massachusetts, USA

©2012 Meral Akkent
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